The World’s Largest Cruise Ship Will Homeport in China. But Will It Work?

Rending of Wonder of the Seas
Rendering of Wonder of the Seas, courtesy of Royal Caribbean.

Royal Caribbean announced last week that its fifth Oasis-class ship will be named Wonder of the Seas. Perhaps more interestingly, the cruise line also announced that it will homeport in Shanghai.

The 5,448-passenger new vessel, set to become the largest ship in the world at the time of its 2021 debut, will reportedly serve the Chinese market year-round.

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New Era of Big Cruise Profits in China?

Needless to say, the fact that Royal Caribbean is investing so much into the Chinese cruise market is newsworthy.

Dr. Zinan Liu, Chairman, Royal Caribbean Asia called the deployment of Wonder of the Seas in China, “a manifesto of new era for Royal Caribbean.”

Royal Caribbean President and CEO Michael Bayley stated that, “Royal Caribbean is known for its innovation and constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, and an Oasis-class ship in China is proof of that. Wonder of the Seas will redefine the ultimate vacation and be revolutionary in her own right, and she marks one of Royal Caribbean’s most exciting chapters to come.”

Those quotes from executives might be more than just the usual cruise line press release hype, according to industry experts. Cruise Industry News forecasts that an Oasis-class vessel sailing regular itineraries in China throughout the year will contribute to nearly a 20% increase in the Chinese cruise market in 2022 compared with 2021.

The Chinese cruise market could potentially reach 4 million passengers in 2022 with Wonder of the Seas becoming the 18th cruise ship to serve the market that year. Cruise Industry News points out that, “2022 was already set to be a key inflection point for the Chinese market, with an estimated 11.8% growth in capacity before Royal Caribbean’s announcement.”

At a State of the Industry session at Seatrade Cruise Asia Pacific last week, cruise executives shared rosy predictions about the Chinese market. Royal Caribbean’s Bayley said, “If I had one word to describe the Asia-Pacific cruise industry, it would be astonishing. China is the driver of significant progress in the market and we are bringing the largest cruise ship here.”

He’s not alone in those thoughts.

Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman, MSC Cruises stated, “We are at the beginning of a journey. China has great potential, as well as other countries in Asia, such as Japan and Singapore.”

Arnold Donald, President and CEO of Carnival Corporation, noted that “There’s so much opportunity. I do see growth here.”

In fact, they see the potential for the Chinese market to grow larger than the U.S. The executives differed slightly in which year they expect China to surpass the United States as a cruise market, choosing either 2029 or 2030.

Questions Remain: Will “Wonder” Succeed Where “Joy” Didn’t?

Optimistic projections of the cruise industry sailing into huge profits in the Chinese cruise market in 2022 could be true — or they could prove illusory.

After all, the last time a cruise line tailored a ship for Chinese cruisers, the results seemed to be less than anticipated.

In 2017, Norwegian Cruise Lines held a gala naming ceremony in Shanghai for its then-new ship Norwegian Joy. A major Chinese star, Wang Leehom, served as the ship’s godfather, and the vessel’s hull art featured a phoenix designed by famous Chinese artist Tan Ping.

The ceremony followed a month-long grand inaugural tour where Joy, described as “the first purpose-built ship customized for the Chinese cruise market,” visited ports including Singapore, Qingdao, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

The following year, Norwegian announced Joy’s redeployment to sail Alaskan voyages. In an interview with Skift, Norwegian Cruise Line President and CEO Andy Stuart explained that, “China’s a good market. But it’s not as good as Alaska.”

Did Norwegian Joy enter – and then leave – the Chinese market too early? Will 2022 prove to be the turning point, with Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas participating in a boom in the Chinese cruise market?

We’ll have to wait and see.

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